So Israel Folau, one of Australia’s best-ever rugby union players, has been found guilty of a “high-level breach” of the Professional Players' Code of Conduct. His crime? Posting comments critical of the homosexual lifestyle on social media.
The next step is how severely he will be sanctioned. A three-member panel is studying his options. His A$4 million contract could be terminated – the most likely outcome – or he might just receive a fine and a suspension. He’ll never play for the Wallabies, Australia’s international side, again.
With the support of Alan Jones, a Sydney radio commentator and a former Wallabies coach, it is likely that Folau will appeal. His case could go all the way to the High Court of Australia.
Is this an overreaction by a spoiled superstar? From afar it might look that way, but it’s not. This is a test case for freedom of speech after the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2017. Folau is a tall poppy and mowing him down sends a very blunt message to ordinary Australians: keep yer gob shut. It’s not just your freedom of speech and freedom of religion that are at risk. It’s your job.
Three quotes from amongst the thousands of words written about Folau’s battle with the administrators of Rugby Australia illustrate this starkly.
Once you’re out of a job, you stay out of a job
Folau won’t be able to play in Australia. The record holder for most tries scored in Super Rugby has effectively been ostracised.
But he might not be able to play in Europe either. Here’s what Mourad Boudjellal, president of the Toulon rugby club, told the French sports magazine L’Equipe. “This guy’s a moron; he ought to clear out. Or he needs to buy himself a brain. He still has the Ku Klux Klan; then he’ll see what it’s like on the other side.”
In other words, expressing Christian views on homosexuality has exposed Folau as an unemployable, brain-dead bigot.
Which is a view which is probably shared by a good number of people in the Australian corporate world. Remember the threat made by Alan Joyce, the openly gay CEO of Qantas, the chief sponsor of the Wallabies? During Australia's same-sex marriage campaign, he told a gay newspaper: “We have 580 companies involved … If you’re unhappy with a company that’s involved with the campaign you won’t be able to bank and you won’t be able to fly anywhere.” Fly, play rugby, or work for a major corporation.
You are with us or you are against us
From all accounts Folau bears no grudges against gays, although he won’t hide his Christian beliefs about their actions. However, the panel accepted the argument that Folau meant to be offensive.
In Australian Democracy 2.0, the traditional Christian notion of hating the sin and loving the sinner won’t work. If you genuinely love the sinner, you must love his sin as well.
Here’s what Ian Roberts, a gay former rugby league player, had to say. “I do feel sorry for Israel, but there are consequences to your actions; and reactions … there are literally kids in the suburbs killing themselves … these types of remarks can and do push people over the edge.” In other words, scepticism of the gay lifestyle is literally murderous – on a par, perhaps, with the radio comperes who egged on Hutu mobs in the Rwandan genocide.
This is a widely accepted meme, but very hard, almost impossible, to prove. Can Roberts show that the teen suicide rate in Sydney has risen because of Folau’s social media posts? He can’t, but he doesn’t need to: the goodness of homosexuality is a truth beyond criticism.
In corporate Australia, tacit approval of homosexuality is going to be a condition of employment.
A columnist for The Australian, Katrina Grace Kelly, savaged Folau. His employer, Rugby Australia, had every right to sack him, she argued.
“Those raging about the issue know very well that if they themselves said on radio or television, or wrote in print, the exact same words Folau used, their careers would be turned to dust … Any employees who want to show solidarity with Folau can print out his post, sign their name clearly on the bottom, take it to their workplace and stick it up on the lunchroom notice board … Rest easy. No public figure, employed person or business owner will take any of the advice given above. No sensible person will want to wear the social, political, legal and financial consequences that will follow.”
And you know what? She is absolutely right. Now that Folau has been found guilty of standing up for a Christian view of sexuality, everyone with a job in corporate Australia knows that his (or her) career will be turned to dust if they fail to genuflect before the LGBTQI+ juggernaut.
Does that sound extreme? Ask Israel Folau: profession, sportsman; employment status, unemployed.
Paradoxically, this may be a good result. In the debate surrounding the 2017 plebiscite on same-sex marriage, supporters of traditional marriage were assured that nothing would change. Now everyone knows how false that was. And is.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet